Nick Cave

Visual and performance artist and designer Nick Cave is in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for ten weeks in Fall 1999 to teach a course entitled, "Extending the Body: Experiments in Clothing." The first artist to be brought to campus under the auspices of the Arts Institute's Interdisciplinary Arts Residency Program, Nick Cave is best known for his sculptural costumes which he exhibits in art galleries and for his ritualistic costumes which he and other dancers wear for live performances and videos. The course he is teaching is a cross-college collaboration of the Art Department (School of Education) and the Textile & Apparel Design Program of the Environment, Textiles and Design Department (School of Human Ecology).

Cave received his B.F.A. from the Kansas City Art Institute and his M.F.A. from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. His degrees are in fiber art. An extremely motivated artist committed to a broad spectrum of endeavors, Cave has exhibited his sculpture, collages, and installations in museums and galleries throughout the United States--from the American Craft Museum in New York, the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, and the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, to Zone One Gallery in Asheville, North Carolina. Since 1989, he has taught surface design courses in the Fiber Arts Program at the Art Institute of Chicago and workshops on topics such as direct painting on fabric, experimental clothing and jewelry, performance, and "extending the body" at The Art Academy of Cincinnati, Pratt Institute of Art, Oregon School of Art and Craft, and Indiana University. Cave has received numerous awards, including a 1991 NEA grant and a 1999 Illinois Arts Council fellowship. Applying his talents to the business world, Cave has designed, manufactured, and marketed his own line of men's and women's clothing and has run a successful retail clothing company in Chicago. His work as a studio artist and clothing designer has been the topic of several articles in major magazines, including AMERICAN CRAFT and FIBERARTS.

Cave addresses social and political issues in his work by utilizing clothing-based forms. The "Sound Suits" project came about as his response to being a black male in America. Similar to ethnographic costumes found in museums, the "Sound Suits" project fulfilled Cave's desire for his work to function both as a piece of static sculpture for museum display and as a ceremonial garment for performance. The suits cover nearly the entire body; sometimes the only part revealed is a pair of eyes, thereby concealing the identity of the performer. As an African-American male, Cave says he is faced with prejudice every time he steps onto the street; these pieces are made as disguise and protection against the prejudices he encounters daily. The materials he incorporates in his suits--from twigs to bottlecaps--are throw-away objects having little value, and they represent our society's view of the African-American male in Cave's opinion. Cave's use of recycled materials is similar to quilt making, which traditionally utilizes little bits of discarded clothing that are reassembled to form something practical and beautiful. Quiltmakers delight in the fact that they are able to create something from nothing. Cave takes apparently worthless materials and transforms them into valuable objects of breathtaking beauty and spirit. His astounding costumes summon something that is beyond the suit itself, past the body located at the core of the suit, free of the race or skin color or gender of the performer. Cave states that once a person is wearing one of these suits, they are able to take on an altered personality and it is incredible how a person is transformed and compelled to move in new, experimental ways that may be quite foreign to their normal personality.

The "Sound Suits" series has allowed Cave to show his work not just in galleries, but also in theaters and in small spontaneous happenings in the street. On November 9, 1999, Cave plans on producing a collaborative documentary exhibition and performance called "On Location/On the Set" at the Chicago nightclub, Circus. In the performance, Cave and nine other performers will wear the Sound Suits. To date, Cave has completed thirty-five of the fantastic sculptural suits and plans to eventually make a total of fifty. The entire event is to be recorded by a video artist, a filmmaker, and a still photographer, and may be accompanied by percussionists.

While many contemporary artists are creating works that examine their personal identity and comment on their experience from the perspective of their cultural background, racial makeup, or religious beliefs, Cave strives to build art that reflects his experience not only as an African-American man, but also his experience as a human being. His newest work, the "Lucky Charm" series, exhibits a conceptual openness. Each "charm" is a hanging bundle of objects, both found objects and objects created by the artist. One piece includes about a dozen or so bright orange rabbit's foot key chains, as well as hand-made, oversized pink and orange fake fur "rabbit's feet"; also a tuft of cotton fringe embellished with tiny seed beads, rusty tools from Cave's grandparent's farm, and various old brushes that have brilliantly dyed purple and orange human hair worked in. The piece resembles an odd collection of rear view mirror ornaments--fuzzy dice and lace garters and Saint Christopher medals--that a person might hang in a car.

Cave's business career includes running a successful fashion and design company in Chicago, Robave, Inc., in collaboration with Jeffery Roberts. Robave is known for its one-of-a-kind or limited-edition, hand-painted clothing created by individual artists. Cave's line of women's clothing is not trendy; it is classic, yet contemporary. His designs appear to be very simple, but they often include what Cave describes as "sculptural" elements, such as a series of pleats and an extra fold, that push them beyond simple forms. Fabric choice is a critical element of these designs, and Cave has traveled to New York and Europe to purchase elegant, luxurious fabrics. His hand-painted and printed silks and velvets were designed to have ancient or patinalike color and surface, thereby enhancing the luxury and timelessness of the garments. Many garments were made by combining sculptural shapes and overlaying hand colored sheer silks with other fabrics, resulting in distinctly unique effects. Every decision, down to the last detail--from fabric, to color, to surface design, to shape, and cut--is carefully considered; Cave's choices are unerringly on the mark. After enjoying great success with Robave since its founding in 1993, the partners recently decided to close the store; Roberts alone will continue with the wholesale end of the business and Cave will focus on his sculpture, installation, and performance art full time.

Visiting artist programs connect university students to the larger art world and introduce students to renowned artists and their methods, work habits, thought processes, and eventually to their actual art. The experience is invaluable to students not just in the present, but also for the future. Students gain an in-depth understanding of an artist's work, and are able to track its development, thereby continuing the learning process, deepening their understanding and all the while having a model of what is required in developing a body of work throughout a lifetime.

Nick Cave's residency will include a public lecture, a field trip to his art studio in Chicago, and an exhibition of his own and his students' work, in addition to his interdisciplinary studio course. "Extending the Body: Experiments in Clothing" will explore ways of deconstructing and reconstructing the functional, conceptual, and cultural elements of clothing. With slide presentations and videos, Cave plans to introduce the students to the work of a variety of artists and designers, such as jewelry artist/sculptor Joyce Scott, installation artist Ann Hamilton, performance artist Karen Finley, and fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier.

Professor Sonya Clark of the Textiles and Apparel Design Program and Professor Thomas Loeser of the Art Department collaborated on the proposal to bring Nick Cave to the UW. Professor Clark studied with Cave at the Art Institute of Chicago, and has remarked that Cave was one of the most demanding teachers she has had. "He expected excellence, hard work, and productivity of himself and his students...His work ethic has always been inspirational," said Clark.

Fiber art is taught in the Textiles and Apparel Design Program of the School of Human Ecology, and numerous TAD courses are cross-listed in the Art Department, making the program interdisciplinary in nature. Most TAD students are preparing for careers in the apparel design or textile design industry; others are artist-designers, and intend to market a line of one-of-a-kind hand-made clothing or home- furnishing fabrics. Still others plan to pursue careers as individual fiber artists. Apparel design students will likely profit from the opportunity to expand their work conceptually by departing from the parameters of the disciplines of garment construction, structural textile design, and surface design. They may also discover new inspiration in conceptual fiber art and performance art. Apparel design students will soon begin planning their mixed media fashion event for May 2000, a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the fashion industry, with makeup artists, hair stylists, a professional photographer, live video projections, and music. With Cave's influence, apparel students may want to push the performance aspect of the event, or invite improvisational musicians to perform live, allowing for a dynamic interaction between performance, music, and fashion.

Students from the Art Department in the course will no doubt benefit from Cave's expertise in garment construction and from his expertise in the use of clothing and textiles as modes of conceptual expression. Such students who have used cloth or clothing in creating static forms may be compelled to explore further possibilities through performance. Moreover, art students may discover a wealth of inspiration in the work of fashion designers and in ethnographic costume and adornment.

The Arts Institute is delighted to welcome Nick Cave to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

- Beth Blahut